More Hong Kong

The thing that would surprise most people who come to visit the US from China is how clear and blue our skies and air is, and the fact that, for the most part, nobody really lives downtown in the city, but lives in separate houses and commutes. Not so with China, and nowhere is it more evident than in Hong Kong. Most people spend 40% of their income on housing, with the average income being $24,000 per year. The average family of four live in a unit that is 600 sq feet, richer families live in 1k-2k sq feet.

We went to Victoria Peak today which give you a bird’s eye, spectacular view of HK. For those of you who remember the movie, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Mom was expecting to see William Holden waiting for her the top of the mountain. She was also expecting to see Suzy Wong walking the streets in her Chinese dress. Yes, it’s been another fulfillment of long time dreams for her to be in HK.

In the afternoon, we took a sampan ride to Aberdeen, where the working fishermen dock their boats. 60 percent of the boats have vanished from previous years. It seems that the young people do not want to follow in their father’s footsteps into a very tough lifestyle. Some of the families work and live on these boats and it indeed looks like a tough life. Surrounding the fishing area was Jumbo Restaurant, where you can pick your seafood out of a fish tank and they will serve it to you for lunch.

At 8pm, a major portion of the skyline of Hong Kong lights up with colored, flashing lights on the buildings, and colored lasers shooting across the harbors like a rock concert, all choreographed to music. I have no idea how they got an entire city to participate in this as if it were a Disney event for a theme park.

This trip to China has been an incredible adventure of a people with a rich history, culture, interesting people and customs, and incredible natural beauty. For a country that I did not think had much religion, a common thread throughout their long history, going all the way for centuries before Christ, has been their great concern about heaven, God, and a judgement of souls in the afterlife for a life lived of good vs. evil, which is so greatly evidenced in so many of the things I have seen on this trip. No matter where we are in this passage through time, our life here is short and we all hope that God in heaven awaits us in the afterlife.

If you ever plan on taking a trip to China, a couple of pieces of advice:

– Don’t drink the water. It’s ok to brush your teeth and shower in it, but you cannot drink it. Most major hotels and most good restaurants use distiller water for ice. When in doubt, ask.

– Bring a roll of toilet paper or box of Kleenex. Most places don’t have any, and only a few restaurants have napkins. One roll per person is fine. Some people also being wet wipes…we brought some, but only used a few…and practice squatting.

– Bring everything for colds, flu, sore throat, upset tummy, diarrhea etc. All but 2 of 16 in our group got something at some point during the trip.

– Pack a couple of zip lock baggies in your suitcase.

China was never high on my list of places to go, but it’s been a fascinating and incredible journey and has far exceed my uneducated expectations. We made some great new friends, and I’d highly recommend Ritz Tours and Daniel, who was our guide thru our whole trip. How amazing that technology allows for me to share the same day that I’ve experienced something. I hope you have enjoyed the emails and photos I’ve sent.

Flying home tomorrow. Wake up call at 5am…luggage out the door by 6am.

 

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is so big, there is no way to fit this amazing skyline into a photo. It’s a relatively small city compared to where we’ve been, only 7 million people, but it’s geographically small, consisting of a peninsula, an island, and a waterway between the two. My mom is beside herself again…Hong Kong and Shanghai were two cities that have always been on her bucket list, and she can hardly believe that she is here.

We arrived late afternoon and had free time which we spent it wandering along the waters edge, and strolling down Nathan Road, a very wide golden mile of shops till you drop. This feels like NYC but with thousands of neon lights on poles protruding out into the streets and the cars driving under them. When we come to a stop light, it is another sea of humanity trying to cross the roadways. The one thing we really have to watch out for is in crossing the roads. Since this was British territory for a long time, they drive from the other side of the car and on the opposite side of the street. It’s really easy to look the wrong way and gets plowed over…apparently pedestrians don’t have the right of way here.

It’s a very American feeling city…lots of English, lots of familiar chain stores sprinkled between the Chinese stores, and Chuck’s sister Barb is ecstatic because there are 56 McDonalds in HK, most of which are open 24 hours! It’s a nice change from 2 weeks of stir fried food with rice.

Some photos from our first afternoon in HK…

 

More Shanghai

We visited Shanghai Museum on our second day. It’s so interesting to see things before the time of Christ. You just don’t ever think of what was happening in China during those times. Pottery is common to many civilizations, but porcelain/ceramic glazing were uniquely Chinese in it’s discovery. I never really thought of that, but that’s where Ming vases got their name…discovered during the Ming dynasty.

We had a free afternoon of shopping and we headed down Nanjing Road…like 5th Avenue in NYC…triple wide with no cars. OMG…another 30 million people shopping there. One thing that was very clear is that Shanghai is a town of watches. The in-flight magazine had a watch ad every other page, and there were watch stores at every turn. One of the guys in our tour group was a watch addict, and he came with a name and address for a specific store from a recommendation from a friend. He described going into a store full of counterfeit everything (handbags, clothes, wallets, watches, etc)’ asking for the high end watches and the manager, and he was led into a separate room where the wall of counterfeit purses slid away to reveal a separate room where the high end watches were housed in glass cases. The wall slid back closed, and his wife, having turned her back for a few minutes to shop, lost her husband as he vanished into the secret room. Long story short, he didn’t find quite what he wanted, but it makes for a great story in a magical watch town. People even took pictures of watches in the windows.

Eventually we hit an area where they allowed traffic again, but there were so many people that only half the people fit on sidewalks, the other half we’re spilling onto the streets on both sides, which made for a lot of honking. It was another day of laughing at the craziness of it all. Barb could spot the golden arches of McDonalds a block away and we were never happier to eat some french fries and a burger.

China actually has 56 minority groups, established due to the isolated pockets of people unable to travel outside their villages. Every village has a unique dialect, and a different costume. Who knew?

We barely scratched the surface of this amazing and beautiful city. This is one city we would certainly like to revisit.

After much searching, Chuck found the perfect watch…Chairman Mao waving to the people. Five dolla…now if the darn thing could only keep time.

Mom’s jumping up and down with excitement again because we’re off to Hong Kong.

 

Shanghai

What a beautiful and modern city this is! We got in late so we went right to sleep, but not before staring out the window at the breathtaking view. Like other fabulous cities on waterways like San Francisco, Sydney, Singapore or Honolulu, Shanghai is right up there with the best of them. Our Hyatt Hotel on The Bund seems to be in the perfect location to watch all the neon lit dinner cruise boats float along the river lined by beautifully lit buildings. This city takes great effort to make their buildings sparkle in the night sky.

We went to a silk factory and saw how silk comforters and duvets were made, and most of everyone bought something there. I don’t think I’ve seen silk comforters before…they are so lightweight but warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. Mom has gone a little over the edge…she has always dreamed of coming to Shanghai so I don’t think her feet have hit the ground since landing yesterday. She really loves just being in this city, and she was really excited in the silk factory where they had so many Chinese silk things!

After lunch we went to the Yu Garden, a serene and peaceful setting originally built for the parents of the former minister of finance to the Emperor in their declining years. When he died, the garden was passed down to his 2 sons who gambled and lost it away. It is now a pubIic park that belongs to the Chinese government.

As we got outside the garden, we were surrounded by our first day of shopping!!! Throughout our trip the guides have always told us that this is a no shopping trip because there was no time as we moved from place to place, and it’s been slightly disappointing to have to rush thru what looks like interesting shopping alleyways along the way. I think a lot of the girls were looking forward to actually having a couple hours of retail therapy…boy, we’re we all in for the shock of our lives.

Imagine 10s of thousands of shoppers, running in a tight labyrinth of pagoda topped buildings, add shopping stores, food vendors selling weird and stinky foods, sales people pulling at you, people shoving, tourists stopping to take photos, and don’t forget, this is the national holiday week with the 30 million living in Shanghai all on vacation this week, with our guides warning us about pickpockets, and our tour guide carrying a little red flag and saying don’t get lost, stay with me! without ever stopping, as we weaved our way through the maze of the shopping district. The words of my aunt were echoing in my head “bring me back something nice from China!” Are you kidding me!?!? It was the craziest, most jam-packed thing our group of 16 has done, as we tried to follow our guide as we made our way through the winding streets one of the most popular shopping districts of Shanghai. Did we buy anything?!? OMG, I was thankful just to have not gotten lost or trampled to death! Somehow, our whole group made it through in one piece!! Holy mackerel – you have no idea what 30 million people feels like until you try to walk through this marketplace! Im starting to understand a whole lot more about Chinese people…pushing and shoving is a survival technique in this country!! Our guide said it was triple the normal crowd, because it’s the national holiday. It was just nuts!!! I could not even stop to take pictures for the most part. I just held the camera over my head, and hoped for the best and every time I held my arms up to take a photo, I worried about all the people pushing and shoving and rubbing against you who might be trying to lift your wallet. I was laughing the whole time because I just could not get over the insanity of it all. My favorite little gadget was two wheels you clip on the back of your aerobic shoes which turns your feet into roller skates. Very clever!!

The evening was filled with a show of the famous Shanghai Acrobats. The government picks and chooses children from a very young age to train for this…I think this is where Cirque de Soleil comes and gets many of the acts for their shows…I recognized a lot of the acts…

The food has really been quite good along this whole trip…but last night was a first…waiters who brought the food wearing roller skates…maybe they bought them in the shopping district for ” velly good price..only ten dolla…”

 

 

Yangtze River

We’ve been on a river boat on Yangtze River for the last three days. There are so many villages along the water’s edge. The problem is every year, during the monsoon, the river floods and wipes out complete villages. the Chinese govt decided to do a very controversial thing which was to build a dam to control the waters and prevent floods, and provide power for millions of people. The river that was once 3-6 meters is now 80 meters deep, which wiped out thousands of villages which are now beneath the water. Entire towns were relocated, including Badong, pictured here, which relocated 1.4 million people in total. The town pictured is A 20 year old relocation city, but it gives you an idea of how crowded china is.

It was another day of indescribable beautiful limestone mountains as we passed thru 3 gorges…high mountains on both sides tower over us as our riverboat floats down between them….vey mystical looking with the haze. They transferred us from our large riverboat which holds 400 passengers, to a smaller boat, and then again to small sampans, so we could travel up the Shannong Stream, a tributary to the Yangtze. The mountains got tighter together, the river narrowing. (boats pictured)

These rickety, wobbly, sampans are 1000 years old and powered only by 3 oarsmen in front, and two in back, rowing full out for a solid hour, pulling the 12 passengers, with all the tourists yelling, “dear friends, c’mon!!!”, a phrase they taught us in Chinese to urge the oarsmen to paddle faster than our neighboring boats. there was not one ounce of fat on these guys…they were really strong, with ages ranging from 20s – 83 years. We felt like we went back in time 1000 years.

Chingquin

I’ve never heard of this city before, but it is the largest city in China with a population of 33 million people. Holy mackerel! Apt buildings raise up into the sky and there are blocks and blocks of identical ones that I would be confused trying to find which one was mine. Sometimes it’s just a sea of people here.

This city had to be rebuilt to a great extent because the Japanese bombed much of it during WWII. Pictured here is the residence and rooftops of the first Emperor of Chingquin, Emperor Yuu.

The most famous residents of this city don’t reside in a temple or palace, but at the Chingquin zoo…They are absolutely adorable and hard to believe they are really bears. We got really lucky. Our tour guide said that most of the time when he comes, they are sleeping with their backs to the crowd. But we saw them upright and eating. All they seem to do is roll over to grab something to eat and roll over to sleep…Chuck says he’s working his way towards their idealistic lifestyle.

How cute are these guys!?!?

We’ve boarded a boat and will be heading down the Yangtze river over the next three days. I don’t know what’s coming next. It’s been fun to watch the riverboats passing by as the sun sets. Apparently, Chingquin has a booming dinner cruise business since we’ve seen many pass by, all lit up with neon lights as the sun sets.

Today of the first day of Chinese Independence day and ALL of China is on vacation for the next week!! 1.3 billion people (1/4 of the human population on earth) all have their vacations this week and they go and visit sites of China too!! OMG…we really felt a difference while touring The City of Ghosts, climbing 350 stairs straight up a mountain as if we’re rush hour traffic. Thank goodness we’re on a boat for the next three days. The ancient Chinese believe that when you die, your spirit goes to this place to say goodbye to their relatives, and spirits are judged to be good or evil, going either to a better life or to the torturous after life.

 

Guilin and the Caves

I always wondered why Chinese painters paint the way they do. They have such a stylized way with their brushes that is so unique to them. No one else in the world paints the way Chinese painters do, especially when it comes to landscapes. Well, we now have an answer…they paint the way they do because China’s landscape looks exactly like their paintings!!! If Claude Monet lived here, he would paint the same way too…

Today, we were living inside a Chinese painting, floating down a four hour stretch of the Li River in Guilin amidst the most beautiful limestone mountains. Friends have been here when it was hazy, cloudy, and over 100 degrees, but we got lucky and it was a beautiful 75 degree sunny and breezy day.

It was hard to know what to take photos of because everywhere you turned was a Kodak moment. Amazingly, the river is only 3-6 feet deep with crystal clear waters. Little old Chinese men with cormorants in long bamboo boats really do float along the waters, fishing to feed their families…actually, it’s the birds that do the fishing. (see 2nd photo) After 2-3 years of training, a cormorant can feed an entire family. The fishermen even pull along side the tour boats and sell the fresh fish, which are still flopping in the nets, to the chefs who are cooking in lunch in woks at the back of the boats for all the tourists. How fresh is that?!

The day ended with a tour of The Flute Reef caves….for all the beauty reflected on the outside, there is also a beauty underneath and inside these same beautiful mountains. We must have walked half a mile inside the limestone caves, full of stalagmites and stalactites of unimaginable majesty.

This was truly a day to behold the beauty and splendor of this Earth that God has made.

As we came out of the cave, we saw construction workers finishing their day and all piling into a mini van to go home…it’s not something we would see everyday!

Also one last pic I thought you might enjoy was yesterday’s lunch at a dumpling house…where all the dumplings were artistically shaped like the foods they represented…walnuts, crab, chickens, and other whimsical shapes like goldfish and flowers….so pretty you hardly wanted to eat them!!

 

Xian and the Terra Cotta Warriors

Wow…today was quite a day. We are in Xian, about 1.5 hours south of Bejing by plane. I thought there was nothing here but the terra cotta warriors but there are actually 8 million people in this city and our hotel is next to a rolls Royce dealership, so whatever you think of China, it’s certainly much more advanced and sophisticated than you think. Traffic again is horrendous, and I’m so glad I don’t have to drive here.

The warriors…everyone has seen photos, documentaries on tv, heard about them, but you have to be here to feel the magnificence of this experience, of seeing these in person to know how powerful and significant this find is. The first Emperor of China (Qin Shi Heung) came to power because he was the first person to unify the 7 countries that were fighting against each other to create one united China. Because he had fought so many battles, he wanted to make sure he was protected and still had his powerful army of soldiers with him in the afterlife, so he spent the next four decades preparing his own mausoleum. When it was completed, all the workers, and concubines were killed and buried along with the site so that no one would know of the mausoleum’s existence or whereabouts. This all happened in 220 BC!!!! I don’t know of much history that goes back that far except the Bible, so just this fact was stunning to me. Who thinks about what was happening in China way back then?

Fast forward to 1974, when a handful of farmers were digging a well, looking for water, when they unearthed some pottery while digging. They immediately called the govt who began excavation to what we now know as the terra cotta warriors. Because no citizen ever owns the land, the farmers got nothing except a new place to live for this incredible discovery. Only one of the farmers still remains, and at 82 years old, and he gets the satisfaction of meeting tourists every day by working in the gift shop, signing autographs, and getting a small percentage for every photo book sold.

Its hard to imagine that all was hidden until from 220 BC until 1974!!! In the largest of the three pits, they have unearthed about 2000 warriors. They estimate that there are about 8000 soldiers all together. They were all painted in color but oxidation has made the colors vanish.

The most amazing pieces are the horses and chariots. Two were reassembled from 1550 pieces, and 3,000 pieces respectively. It took them 8 years to put them back together before being shown to the public. They were made of bronze and gold. For the most part, these soldiers are all life size but it’s sheer massive size of this archeological dig leaves you overwhelmed, stunned, and speechless. Your mind really has a hard time wrapping around what your eyes are seeing.

So Chuck bought a General warrior for his office…we could have bought one in San Francisco Chinatown, but this one has a genuine “made In China” at the official terra cotta factory certificate, and we all know how rare that is!!

 

Temple of Heaven

Today we visited the Temple of Heaven…a UNESCO World heritage site and considered one of the architectural masterpieces of the world.  It is completely built with tight fitting wood only and no nails, and was built by the same Emperor that built the Forbidden City, painted blue for the God of Heaven. The Emperors used to come here twice a year to pray for a good harvest for the people. Now it is a beautiful park, over 4 times bigger than the Forbidden City, and amazingly, older citizens come here to hang out all day long. they say the elderly get too lonely at home by themselves so they come here to exercise, do tai chi, dance, crochet and knit, play games, and be together. I never saw a happier bunch of elderly people hanging out the way kids do at the mall. It was very cool. I cracked up when I saw one group of women playing a game that looked like Mah Jong tiles, but they had English alphabet letters on the tiles, and you can see one woman had a cheat sheet for English words!

They are feeding us like there is no tomorrow…everyday it’s a 12 course banquet style lunch or dinner, or a giant buffet in the hotels. I keep telling myself I’m not going to eat that much, but when the food comes, it’s all so interesting and different, you don’t want to pass it up. I asked our guide if he was going to be feeding us like this the whole trip through, and he said , “Of course!  You’re on vacation!”

A few more photos of roof tiles…I’m just fascinated by them.

We are off to Xian…terra cotta warriors tomorrow…

The Great Wall, Cloisonné, and Ming Tombs

We had another interesting day of learning about China from our guide. There are so many people here that they have to have a lottery system to be selected to have permission to buy a car. Sometimes you will wait up to a year. There really is a one child rule…if you have a second child, they won’t allow the child to be registered so he/she cannot get a social security number to be able to work later, etc. With 1.4 billion people, they certainly have a population problem.

I know some of you have been on the Great Wall but you haven’t really had the challenge until you try to do it in the rain with thousands of other crazy people doing it too, with everyone carrying umbrellas. Chuck’s sister Barbara got dizzy just looking at the steep steps, which are uneven and hard to climb. We made it to the fourth tower…along with thousands who were sliding on the road along with us.

We went to a cloisonné factory and watched girls hand glue copper wire onto copper vases, hand paint, fire, and glaze seven layers of enamel, to create the beautiful works of art that were once reserved exclusively for the emperors. I would go blind trying to do this intricate work!

Our last stop was to the Ming tombs, the garden of serenity which leads to the burial place of all of the Emperors, empresses, and concubines during the Ming Dynasty. the most famous was Emperor Zhu , who built the Forbidden City, this garden and tomb for his wife, and the Great Wall. No wonder this site looks so similar to the buildings in the forbidden city.

Last stop, you might recognize the Birds Nest…absolutely beautiful in person. 92,000 seats and the singer who promoted it the most and had a sold out performance…you’ll never guess…Jackie Chan!

Yup…My legs are getting tired…and it’s only day 2 of touring!!